The stage at Yosemite High School was visited by some of the world's greatest poets Saturday, brought to life by seven Madera County high schoolers, all vying to win the annual Poetry Out Loud contest.
The countywide honor was won by Michelle Linn of Glacier High School in Oakhurst. Two other area youth took top spots in the contest -- Yosemite High School students David Nobles and Jocelyn Boe, who won third and fourth place, respectively. Second place was won by Emily Zavala-Aguilar of Liberty High School.
Linn will advance to the competition's state finals in Sacramento March 24-25 as Madera County's representative. If she wins there, she'll advance to the national finals in May in Washington D.C., where she'll have a shot at winning a $20,000 scholarship.
"These kids get a chance to compete and win prizes, but the big prize are these lines (of poetry)," said poet Dan Williams, one of three judges of the competition. "They are going to remember them years later, and it may be of great value to them."
Linn had Williams chuckling to himself in delight as she recited "The Empty Dance Shoes" by Cornelius Eady.
"My friends, as it has been proven in the laboratory, an empty pair of dance shoes will sit on the floor like a wart until it is given a reason to move," recited Linn, comfortable and poised. "Those of us who study inertia (Those of us covered with wild hair and sleep) can state this without fear: The energy in a pair of shoes at rest is about the same as that of a clown knocked flat by a sandbag ... "
"This gives kids more depth of an education," said L. Ann Molin, Madera County coordinator for California Poets in the Schools, of the event. "Education is more than solving for 'X' and dissecting a frog, and literature is more than learning to read and look things up in a dictionary ... (participants in Poetry Out Loud) are not just memorizing the words, but also the meaning. They're internalizing some of the feelings (of each poem), and that's a depth that the education system doesn't really encourage much these days."
Molin applauded all the teachers who helped students get involved in Poetry Out Loud, adding "these teachers are our hope for the future."
"This is a great opportunity for student performance," said Julie O'Kane, president of the Madera County Arts Council. "I think in this day and age, students need to feel comfortable in public speaking, and Poetry Out Loud is a great way to practice that skill. And from a literary point of view, it's almost a lost art. So it's refreshing to see this medium stay alive with young people."
Contest judge Julie Elstner said this year's event was harder to judge than ever before, with few mistakes, "excellent" stage presence and diction, no mumbling, and "difficult" poems picked by participants.
"It's better this year than ever," said Sherril Royse, arts education program manager for Madera County Arts Council. "It's improved every year and is getting stronger."